As engineers devise machines to replace traditional human labor, the future might seem to belong to those people termed, uncreatively, “creatives.” But computers are coming for their vocations, too, and have been for decades. Paul Brown began ceding artistic invention to code 50 years ago, after seeing a 1968 exhibition titled “Cybernetic Serendipity” at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts. The British artist-scientist’s retrospective at the National Academy of Sciences is titled, a bit ominously, “Process, Chance, and Serendipity: Art That Makes Itself.”
The earlier of the 10 works are black-and-white drawings of elaborate but static geometric patterns generated by a plotter run by punch cards. Later, Brown (who now collaborates with his son, Daniel) was able to add color, curves, simulated depth and, finally, motion. “Dragon,” from 2012, expands to video to yield a kinetic pixel painting that’s forever drawing and redrawing itself.
Brown has designed for specific purposes, including light shows for Pink Floyd. But he stresses that he makes autonomous software with no specific intended result, other than simply to generate imagery. The auteurs of these complex artworks, which suggest biomorphic, art deco and ancient Celtic motifs, are computer programs. They are, in a word, creative.
Upstairs in the same building, R. Luke DuBois’s “Love in the Time of Data” is a more humorous variety of process-oriented art. Dubois, who’s best known as a conceptual composer, joined 21 online dating sites so he could find the most popular mating-game word in cities and towns across the United States. (The analysis surveyed more than 19 million Americans who claim to be single, and found 20,000 unique words.) He placed each word on a giant map at the place it’s used more frequently than anywhere else in the country.
Paul Brown: Process, Chance, and Serendipity: Art That Makes Itself and R. Luke DuBois: Love in the Time of Data Through July 15 and Aug. 15, respectively, at the National Academy of Sciences, 2101 Constitution Ave. NW.
“Works on paper” doesn’t quite describe all the entries in “Methodical,” the impressively diverse juried members’ exhibition at Pyramid Atlantic. Some of the pieces take leave of the surface, and in others, the essence is the paper itself. The medium isn’t exactly the message, but image and technique are often inseparable.
John Woolums’s “No Mind” features a target made of rings perforated in handmade paper, with just enough fiber between the cuts so that the thing remains one piece. Kristina King’s artisanal paper comes in a rough square with an incised pattern and pigment that bleeds from black to gray to white.
Other works are even more three-dimensional. Jacqui Crocetta’s print, “True North,” is topped with real branches strung with wire and small paper leaves. Pauline Jakobsberg’s paper shirt hangs on a metal hanger that intrudes into the composition, partly separating background from simulated garment.
More conventional in method, if no less intriguing, are selections such as Kristin Casaletto’s multi-panel sequence of an apple chomped from intact to nothing but the core, the consumption rendered in ink, watercolor and lemon juice. Allan Akman’s rural landscape is nearly as realistic, although the screen print’s dot pattern is intentionally obvious in the big sky’s clouds. Friskiness and a strong sense of form distinguish Katie Garth’s “Reservoir,” which enticingly arrays simple, discrete shapes. This picture is all surface, but it invites the viewer to dive in.
Methodical Through July 13 at Pyramid Atlantic Art Center, 4318 Gallatin St., Hyattsville.
Artists inspired by science fiction usually depict robots, extraterrestrials and futuristic machinery. Caroline Hatfield is more interested in alien landscapes, which may not be as unfamiliar as they appear. The centerpiece of her Target Gallery show, “Unearthing,” is a room-filling installation that places a metal peak amid dunes of salt, sand and coal slag. The piece is rooted in the Baltimore artist’s childhood in an Appalachian coal-mining region, yet it has a hint of the serenity of a Japanese Zen garden.
Also included are three print-drawings made with powdered pigment, a grainy link to the installation, and a series of small mountain views, photographed in silvery black-and-white and exhibited in silver frames. Characteristically, the pictures juxtapose alpine beauty with ecological devastation. Hatfield presents a similar contrast with a rusted metal barrel whose cavelike interior is prettily illuminated with twinkling pinpoint lights. Prompted by an Ursula K. Le Guin poem, the converted industrial relic offers a symbolic view into past and future, interior and exterior, mine shaft and cosmos.
Caroline Hatfield: Unearthing Through July 15 at Target Gallery, 105 N. Union St., Alexandria.
D.C. artist Sally Levie takes her cues from forests. Her “O2 — Intersections of Nature” features both precise paintings and unruly drawings, but nearly all begin with the shapes of trunks, branches and leaves. Even the few humans portrayed in this Studio Gallery show nestle and overlap in a profusion that suggests vegetation.
The most arresting of the pictures, rendered with charcoal, are hardly pastoral. Levie depicts such phenomena as an “exploding tree” — according to one title — with vigor, a free hand and dynamic contrasts of light and dark. Rather than depict trees as quietly fixed in place, the drawings seem to express the vitality pulsing within them.
Also at Studio, Gary Anthes’s “Pictures at an Exhibition: Points of View” looks at people who are (mostly) looking at art. Made at major museums in Washington and elsewhere, the impeccably composed color photographs show frames within frames, and employ both architecture and large artworks as environments for human subjects. Most seem engaged, although a few appear indifferent. Somewhere in between, perhaps, are the spectators contemplating art through the lenses of their cellphone cameras.
Sally Levie: O2 — Intersections of Nature and Gary Anthes: Pictures at an Exhibition: Points of View Through July 14 at Studio Gallery, 2108 R St. NW.